Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In praise of butts up

Posted By on 07.18.12 at 06:45 AM

Now all you need is a wall.
  • Christopher Johnson/Wikimedia Commons
  • Now all you need is a wall.
An excerpt from a recent, lengthy, and fantastic interview with Spike Lee, conducted by Will Leitch for New York magazine's Vulture:

[Leitch:] I cannot imagine what it must be like for you to walk around Cobble Hill now and see wheat-germ places and Pilates.
[Lee:] 
That does not bother me. What bothers me is that these kids do not know the street games we grew up with. Stoop ball, stickball, cocolevio, crack the top, down the sewer, Johnny on the pony, red light green light one-two-three. These are New York City street games.

This nostalgic lament reminded me of the many games my friends and I used to play on the playground (I am dubious of red light green light originating in New York City). Yet of all of them, I have a particular fondness for butts up.

Butts up is a pretty simple game. It requires the following:

A tennis ball.

People.

A wall.

That's it. I asked my friend Lewis to remind me of the rules. I quote him in full, since it's the most concise explanation of the game that I've yet heard:

Player one throws the ball against the wall. The remaining players then seek to catch the ball and throw it themselves. If a player touches the ball, but does not field it cleanly, that player must run to the wall before another player picks up the ball and throws it against the wall. If he reaches the wall before the ball, he is safe and play resumes. If he does not, his butt is up.

The last person left standing is the winner. A couple more things my friend forgot: The ball cannot bounce before hitting the wall, and the ball must bounce after hitting the wall before it can be caught.

What's great about butts up is that you can play with any amount of people, it's fast and physical, and it requires little to play. The timeless greatness of butts up was confirmed by my friends and me a few years later, after playing it regularly, in what could be called an adult version. It's not that much different:

The rules are the same.

Add alcohol.

And imagine my surprise when I discovered just how widespread butts up is—and how many variations of it exist. According to a Wikipedia entry on butts up (spelled without the apostrophe, which doesn't make any sense, since being out is referred to as "your butt is up"), other names for the game include "Red Butt," "Blackjack," "wallball" "Slaughterhouse," "Fumble," "Butt Ball," "Asses Up," "Suicides," "Stitch," "Peg," "Fire in the Bum," "A-Ball," "Buns Up," "Booties Up", "No Fear," "Red Bum," "Red Ass," "Sting," "Error", "Off the Wall","Kirby", "Spread," or "Burn." None of which are sexually suggestive, of course.

Of all the iterations of the game, my favorite is a version that's popular in Arizona. Instead of scattering around the wall, all other players but "player one" stand up against the wall in a line. Player one throws the ball as hard as he or she can at any of the participants lined against the wall, automatically bestowing on them "player one" status; if anyone strays from the wall, trying to dodge the ball, then player one gets to throw a penalty shot at them, but it doesn't render them "player one." According to the Wikipedia entry, "The object of this game—like many other playground games—was simply to inflict pain on classmates, and was thus often played in relatively obscure or off-limits areas of the playground."

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